The NHL announced that Dallas will host the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl next Jan. 1 — but did not name an opponent for them.
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: It was an odd move by the NHL to announce a Winter Classic host (the Dallas Stars) and a venue (the Cotton Bowl) and not an opponent (TBD). But commissioner Gary Bettman told me that there are a significant number of considerations the league, its television partners and the Stars have to navigate to find the right fit. Will their fans travel? Can they pull ratings? Will the game be worth watching?
Nashville is more than 650 miles away from Dallas, but the Predators tick off so many of the other boxes. Their fans might travel for the first outdoor game in franchise history — and keep in mind those fans aren’t just local to Nashville, but regional to places like Kentucky and Alabama. The Predators are a division rival of the Stars and have shown an ability to attract national interest.
But more than anything else: This would be like the CMA Awards mixed with pond hockey. A team from Tennessee vs. a team from Texas. What a moment for the NHL to have two nontraditional markets have the Winter Classic spotlight to themselves. What an opportunity for the NHL to celebrate the regional diversity of the league in 2020, with an outdoor game that, for the first time in league history, won’t feature a team from either coast, the Northeastern U.S., Canada or the Original Six. Stars. Predators. Winter Classic 2020. Drop the puck.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Nashville deserves an outdoor game. But I’d rather Nashville wait an extra year and host its own outdoor game in 2021.
Who do I want facing the Stars next year? The Minnesota Wild. Look, relocation is awkward and messy. The league often doesn’t know how to properly honor a team when it has left (see: the Carolina Hurricanes‘ divisive Hartford Whalers night). There are undoubtedly still hard feelings in Minnesota (especially toward then-owner Norm Green) after the North Stars bolted, creating an eight-year NHL absence in the State of Hockey.
Some might view the Stars hosting the Wild on this stage as a flex. I see it as a celebration of the past, but also the present; two teams that found a way to make it work in their cities, one being a conventional hockey market, the other not. Get Neal Broten, Mike Modano and other old North Stars involved. Have Zach Parise wear his dad J.P.’s old helmet and gloves during warm-ups again. Build up a narrative of drama. Tell me you wouldn’t tune in.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN The Magazine researcher: I like to see outdoor games as ways to reward successful teams as well as put on exciting matchups, so I’d like to see the Stars play the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have the second-best record in the league of the past five seasons overall and are the most successful team that has not been chosen for an outdoor game.
The Lightning average the fifth most shots per game and give up the eighth most shots against, and since 2013, the Lightning and Stars have averaged 7.7 combined goals in their head-to-head matchups, so the game should be exciting, fast-paced, and high-scoring. While the Stars may have their, umm, issues with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Lightning feature a stacked lineup led by Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman that deserves a chance to shine in the national spotlight. And like Greg’s choice above, it would also be a celebration of two organizations that have developed their own brands of successful southern hockey.